On this lofty hill the tribes of Israel assembled in their thousands to determine what punishment should be meted out to the Benjamites for their hideous wickedness towards the wife of the Levite (Judg 21:1,3,5,8; see antepp. 662-663). Here also they gathered, at the summons of Samuel, during the worst times of Philistine oppression, and after a public confession of their sins, were sent forth to victory and deliverance (1 Sam 7:5-13). It was on Mizpeh that they met, once more, for the momentous choice of a king, ending in the election of Saul to the great office, amidst loud cries, then first heard in the nation, of "God save the King!" (1 Sam 10:17-25). One of the three holy cities* which Samuel visited in turn, as judge, stood on its now deserted slopes, or on its summit. Here Jeremiah lived, with the small body of his people who had escaped from being led off to Babylon, after the destruction of Jerusalem (40:6). During the Captivity it was the seat of the Chaldean governor. Here the Crusaders caught their first sight of the Holy City, calling the hill Mount Joy, "because it gives joy to pilgrims' hearts, for from that place men first see Jerusalem." On this very height, in fine, Richard the Lionhearted fell on his knees, and, covering his face with his hands, refused to gaze on the city of his Lord's humiliation and death, desecrated as it was by the infidel, crying out, "Ah, Lord God, I pray that I may never see the Holy City if I may not rescue it from the hands of Thine enemies."
Geba lies about two miles nearly east of Ramah, on a separate hill of the same small chain; a poor, half-ruinous village, once a town of the priests (Josh 18:24, 21:17); now, having nothing sacred but a saint's tomb, as ruined as all else. From this, the way rose very steep, up a stony, desolate ascent; not too barren, however, for some sheep and goats to browse among the stones. About half way between Jeba, or Geba, and Mukhmas, the ancient Michmash, but to the east of a straight line from one to the other, the famous pass begins, through the Wady Suweinit, "The Valley of the Little Thorn-tree, or Acacia," to Jericho; in ancient times the main road from the east to the hill-country of Central Palestine. Michmash, which is famous in one of the most romantic episodes of Old Testament history, lay less than a mile due north from the point where the wady, running south-east, contracts into a fissure through the hills, the sides in some places precipitous, and very near each other; in most parts eaten away above, so that the cliffs form slightly receding slopes instead of precipices, with a comparatively broad bottom below; the wady, however, still preserving its character of a gorge, rather than of a valley. The whole way, from near Michmash till it opens on the Jordan plains, behind the modern Jericho, where it is known as the Wady Kelt, is thus a narrow sunken pass, with towering walls or grim roughened slopes of rock on each side, in some places 800 feet high, and, throughout, only far enough asunder at any part below to allow of the passage of a small body of men abreast. The whole length of this gorge, including its doublings and windings, is about twelve miles, but in that distance it sinks from a height of 2,040 feet above the sea, near Michmash, to about 400 feet below it, where it opens on the Jordan slope—a fall of more than 2,400 feet.
Josephus describes very minutely the position of the Philistine camp which Jonathan assailed. It was, he says, a cliff with three heads, ending in a long-sharp tongue, and protected by surrounding precipices; and such a natural stronghold is found close to Michmash, on the east; the peasantry giving it, even now, the name of "The Fort." A ridge stands up in three round knolls, over a perpendicular crag, ending in a narrow tongue to the east, with cliffs below it; the slope of the valley falling off behind, and the ground rising, to the west, towards Michmash. Opposite this "fort," to the south, a crag rises up to about the same height—from fifty to sixty feet—so steep as, apparently, to forbid any attempt to climb it; the two sides answering exactly to the description in Samuel: "a rocky crag on the one side, and a rocky crag on the other side" (RV). These two crags, in the Hebrew Bible, are called Bozez and Seneh—"The Shining," and "The Thorn" or "Acacia," respectively (1 Sam 14:4)—names still applicable when we see them. Seneh, "The Thorn," survives in "Suweinit," the name of the wady; Bozez, "The Shining," explains itself at once on the spot. The two crags face each other, from the east and west respectively, so that one is nearly always in shade, while the other is equally favoured by sunshine. Even the colour of the cliffs has been affected by this; the shady side being dark, while that which has always been exposed to the glare of the light is tawny beneath and white towards the top. The growth of a thorn-tree on the one side, and the beating of the sun on the other, were doubtless the origin of the names by which Jonathan knew them three thousand years ago. That he could really climb the northern cliff, though with no small difficulty, has been proved by a repetition of the feat in our days. But then there was no Philistine picket overhead! On the precipitous height, the lowest courses of a square tower are still to be seen, so that an outpost must have been stationed here in ancient times.
Michmash itself is a very poor village, but its houses show traces of a very different state of things in former ages. Old pillars lie about, and some of the dwellings are wholly built of large squared stones, from ancient ruins. Others have great dressed stones for lintels and doorposts to their little courts; and in one spot lies the carved head of a freestone column. Under the Romans, as under the Philistines, a military post was stationed at the pass close by, one memorial of which I bought from a peasant: a small bronze statuette of Diana with her quiver, but the feet gone, which had been found in ploughing. How long had it lain since its first owner lost it or threw it away?